Joe Biden Alters Bin Laden Account

It’s been held up as one of the starkest differences between Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden: She decisively supported the raid to take out Osama bin Laden, and he opposed it.

But on Tuesday, Biden altered his account of what happened in the lead-up to the 2011 operation, telling an audience that he gave his direct support to President Barack Obama after a cabinet meeting, and notably omitting Clinton’s name from the list of people who were definitively in favor of it — amid sky-high speculation that he is poised to challenge her for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

White House photo
White House photo

“It was something that was a difficult call for the president. So, we sat in the cabinet room at the end of the day making the decision. He said, ‘I want everybody’s opinion.’ Everybody went around the room,” Biden said at George Washington University.

“There were only two people who were definitive and absolutely certain: Leon Panetta said go and Bob Gates said don’t go, and others were 51-49, some ended up saying go, but it was such a close call,” he continued. “I joked and I said, ‘You all sound like 17 Larry Summers,’ the economist, on one hand then on the other. They said, ‘Joe, what would you do?’ There was a third option I didn’t really think we should do. I said, I think we should make one more pass with a UAV to see if it is him.”

“The reason I did that is because I didn’t want to take a position to go if that was not where [Obama] was going to go. So as we walked out of the room and walked upstairs, I said, I told him my opinion that I thought he should go, but follow his own instincts,” Biden added. “But it would have been a mistake – imagine if I had said in front of everyone, don’t go or go, and his decision was different. It undercuts that relationship. I never say what I think finally until I go up into the Oval with him alone.”

Biden’s remarks Tuesday differ from what he said in January 2012, when he recalled directly advising the president against the raid and did not mention a private conversation with Obama.

“Every single person in that room hedged their bet except Leon Panetta. Leon said go. Everyone else said, 49, 51,” Biden said in 2012. “He got to me. He said, ‘Joe, what do you think?’ And I said, ‘You know, I didn’t know we had so many economists around the table.’ I said, ‘We owe the man a direct answer. Mr. President, my suggestion is, don’t go. We have to do two more things to see if he’s there.'”

Clinton has repeatedly drawn a distinction between hers and Biden’s positions on the raid, including in her 2014 memoir, “Hard Choices: “I respected [Biden’s] concerns about the risk of a raid,” she wrote, “but I came to the conclusion that the intelligence was convincing and that the risks were outweighed by the benefits of success.”

After Biden’s remarks Tuesday, then-Obama chief of staff Bill Daley supported Biden’s account in a conversation with reporters:

 

 

White House press secretary Josh Earnest was careful not to weigh into the shifting account, asserting he wasn’t in the room several times during the daily press briefing.

“I was not in the room when these decisions were being made or when the president was consulting his advisers about this very difficult foreign policy call that he made,” Earnest said. “There have already been books written about this. I am confident there will be more, or at least more books in which we will be able to read about this momentous time in American history. So I’m going to leave the dissection and the oral history to those who were actually there. To the extent there is greater clarity you would like to seek, maybe you would ask those in the room.”

He later added, “I don’t have any new insight to share with you about the president’s recollection about those events.”

This post was updated to include comment from White House press secretary Josh Earnest.

Correction: TheBlaze initially stated that Biden expressed his support for the raid during the cabinet meeting; Biden said he told the president privately afterward.

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